Am I better off than I was four years ago?
When I first became an elected official in 1990, only two of my four daughters were born. Those two were precocious and much, much wiser than their ages of two and four. A few years later I added another daughter, and then a fourth. They all grew up with a first-hand knowledge of how government “happens.” Suffice it to say, because of my public service experience, my daughters have a better than average knowledge of elections. Every three years I was up for re-election for my local office. I ended up serving a total of 17 years before I moved out of my district in 2006. The girls were involved quite a bit in each of those local elections. But in 2002, they were heavily involved when I ran for the office of state legislator. All four of my daughters participated in many campaign events, including at least one parade every weekend from early May to late September. They understand the importance of photo shoots and public appearances and fundraisers. They also understand the definition of conviction.
So every time an important election comes around, inevitably discussions turn to politics in our house. Even so, I was quite surprised when Emily called me more than a week ago to talk about the upcoming presidential election. You see, Emily doesn’t usually call me unless she needs money or needs something else or wants to tell me what a horrible Mother I am. But this call was only about the election. She had an idea of who she wants to vote for and she said she needed to bounce her ideas off of someone she trusts to give her a straight answer. I nearly fell out of my chair. We had a great discussion. “Your future depends on the outcome of this election,” I told her. “You think I don’t realize that?!” she nearly yelled at me. She said many of her friends have been repeating one-liners and zingers, but when she presses them to back up their words those same kids don’t have any opinions or facts. Emily was pretty frustrated about that. And I smiled. Of course, it helped that this was a phone conversation and she couldn’t see my facial expressions.
Then over the weekend, I checked in with Kate to see how she and her family are doing. They’re fighting colds, but doing well. Of course I had to ask The Question. “Yes, I’m voting. I’ve done my research and I know who I’m voting for. But you’re not going to like it.” She’s voting for a third-party candidate. She’s right, I don’t like it. But I respect the fact that she took the time to learn where the candidates stand on the issues most important to her. She’s making an educated vote. I can’t ask for anything more.
Then last night, Brianna was home for dinner. My husband and I were talking about tonight’s debate, which led me to ask Brianna if she was planning to vote. “Hell, no,” she was quick to respond. “Why not?” I asked. “This is your first time old enough to vote. I’ll go with you. I’ll show you how it’s done.” Still she refused. “It’s critical to your future,” I pleaded. She wasn’t accepting any of it. She politely told me, “I don’t know who to vote for and I don’t want to go vote for a candidate just because you or someone else tells me to.” I wanted to hug her and scold her at the same time. But she didn’t give me a chance. She got up and headed to her room. Those of you with teenagers are well aware that sometimes parents have such a short timeframe to discuss things with our kids before they lose patience with us or their attention goes to something else. Even though I didn’t think this discussion was confrontational, Brianna did. I’ll have to revisit the discussion with her again. There’s time.
As Brianna headed up to her room, it dawned on me that I haven’t yet had “the talk” with Rose. Newly married (with a name change) and a change of address will create some challenges for her. Hopefully she’ll consider her civic duty too important to be side railed by those things.
So back to my question. Am I better off than I was four years ago?
When I came into this second marriage in 2006, I was holding my own financially. I wasn’t well off by any means, but I wasn’t going in the red very often when it came time to pay the bills. My husband had just finished up a very successful career and had amassed some wealth, but it had been evenly divided when his divorce was finally settled just a few months after we started dating. When we blended our families and our ledgers, we were not on even ground financially, but we weren’t all that far off either. About that same time I was promoted with a large raise and life was good.
And then the other shoe dropped. In July 2008, I lost my high-paying job. I realized very quickly that the house we purchased was more than we could afford, but the housing market was bursting and we were trapped. We figured we could hold on until I found another job. Two months later, we lost nearly 60 percent of our investments in The Crash. By November 2008, I was deeply depressed and grabbing on to “hope and change” like the majority of my fellow Americans.
It took me thirty-four months to be offered a permanent job, at half the wage I had previously earned. I accepted it without even having to think it over for a millisecond. I was thrilled to have medical insurance again and a steady income, albeit so much smaller than our needs. There is a value to steady income that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
I’ve been in my job about 17 months now. Today we are still struggling simply because I’m earning so much less than I was in early 2008. We’ve managed to scrimp and save and pay off some of our debt, but we have a long way to go still. I picked up a second job to help, but sometimes I wonder if the stress it creates causes more damage than the little bit of extra money. We are still in our expensive home, only because the market fell and we have no hope of selling it for what we owe on it.
My husband gave up looking for a job a couple of years ago. Past the “normal” retirement age, he says there is no one who will hire him with so many younger guys searching for jobs. He speaks truth. About six months ago he decided to start a business, but it’s taking a very long time to heat up. He struggles with motivation and drive, two essential elements to a start-up.
The way I see it, the U.S. got hit with a disastrous turn of events beginning in August 2008. Unlike anything we’d experienced in our lifetimes, experts struggled with finding a way out of the dark hole we were in. The first year of Obama’s presidency was spent trying to figure out how bad it was and what our options were. He put a few things in place and tried to do more, but he was stopped by partisan fighting. The divided aisles in Congress haven’t been this wide in decades. Senator McCain could not have done more had he been elected. The mentality in D.C. beginning in 2009 was to not compromise. Period. In 2010, people were dissatisfied with Congress and sent a message with their votes. Unfortunately, Congress had ear plugs in and they were all listening to their own brand of music. They will go down as the most lame Congress in recent history.
Slowly, as molasses flows in January, we are coming out of the dark mess of 2008. We all knew it was going to take time. Did we like it? Hell, no. We’re all frustrated and sick and tired of being short on cash and overloaded with bills. We are so over this. But we need to remember, the mess that was created in 2008 was unprecedented. And recovering from that is going to take many more years. As much as I want to believe we’ll be back to the good days in 2013, I know that’s not realistic—no matter who wins on November 6. This is a mess!! And it’s going to take time.
So take a breath, and think it through. Do what my daughters have done. Sit down and write a list of the values and principles that are critical to your beliefs. Then do your research and find out which candidate supports, or most closely aligns with, your positions. Don’t listen to the polls. And for Heaven’s sake, don’t listen to the 30-second sound bites on the evening news. Listen to your own self. Your future depends on it.